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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The thorny issue of sovereignty over Jerusalem's holy sites as part of any future peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians is best left untouched since there is no solution that will be agreeable to both sides, former US Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk said Wednesday.
"In the Middle East and in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in particular some problems do not have solutions," Indyk said in an address at the Jerusalem Conference, a city-sponsored event aimed at boosting Jerusalem's economy. "You should leave well enough alone."
His comments come six years after peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, which included final-status issues such as Jerusalem, failed at Camp David, after the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat rejected an offer put to him by former Prime Minister Ehud Barak and US President Bill Clinton whereby the Palestinians would get about 95 percent of the West Bank and half of Jerusalem.
Indyk said it was a mistake to try to solve the question of sovereignty over Jerusalem's holy sites, noting that it opened a Pandora's box which could not be bridged.
"Israel cannot accept Muslim sovereignty over the Temple Mount, and the Muslims cannot accept Jewish sovereignty over Haram el Sharif, and they just happen to be the same place," he said.
Indyk, who now serves as the Director of the Washington-based Saban Center for Middle East Policy, recounted how Arafat even refused to recognize that the Temple Mount was the site of the two Biblical Jewish temples, infuriating the US administration.
At the same time, he noted that it was a myth that Jerusalem was the "undivided eternal capital of the Jewish people," pointing out that in reality Jerusalem has been a shared city on a religious level since Israel gained control over east Jerusalem in the 1967 Six Day War.
Moreover, he asserted that Jerusalem was already divided between Jewish and Arab sections of the city, with Jewish residents of the capital rarely visiting Arab residential sections.
In his address, Indyk also lauded Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's proposal to cede outlying Arab neighborhoods in the city to the Palestinians in the future, saying that was in line with the reasoning behind his West Bank realignment plan.
"What is the logic of separating from the Palestinians in the West Bank if you are going to incorporate 200,000-250,000 [Jerusalem] Arabs into Israel proper?" he asked.
Indyk also said that no US president would ever move the US embassy to Jerusalem except as part of a final peace agreement with the Palestinians, and, repeat pre-election pledges notwithstanding, it was unrealistic to expect such a move.
He suggested that the US embassy could be moved to Jerusalem in the future if the Palestinians declare a provisional capital in the east Jerusalem areas that Israel cedes.
In a separate address, the former US special envoy to the Middle East Dennis Ross said that with people in the region hearing that the Hamas-led Palestinian government refuses to recognize Israel, and the Iranian president's calls for Israel's destruction, "any prospect for peace has disappeared."